The Fog (1980)


Directed by: John Carpenter

Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill

Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh

“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
The tagline that I just made up.

•  •  •

The Fog is the story of the most considerate seafaring ghost-lepers ever to stalk the coast of California. Sure these slimy, maggot-faced killers gruesomely stab the villagers of Antonio Bay with rusty boat hooks, but at least they have the courtesy of knocking on the door before entering to kill.

This movie is John Carpenter’s followup to the massively successful and groundbreaking Halloween in 1978. He and his writing partner, the spectacular Debra Hill, set out to create an old-fashioned ghost story that would be a left turn from their recent slasher-film success.

In that they succeeded. The Fog’s monsters are no Michael Myers, and the fear is mainly driven by the super-unrealistic sea fog. Carpenter wants you to fear the unknown by not knowing exactly what’s out there.

But the death scenes are just too much, in that they sometimes feel like they’re ripped from a made-for-TV movie that you might watch just cause you’re bored. As I said before, the lepers are overly polite, and perform a sinister knock on the door before they hack and slash. That gives us about three different times where someone opens the front door, stands in the doorway for 20 seconds asking, “Who’s there?” and then is stabbed through the back as they turn to go back inside.

Is it fun? Oh my god, yes. Is it good filmmaking? Not really.   

Despite some obvious criticisms of the film as a whole, the cast is decidedly stellar. Adrienne Barbeau makes her film debut as Stevie Wayne, the radio host who literally every resident of Antonio Bay is tuned into at all times (1980s!). Stevie Wayne is the film’s badass — a single mom working overtime while also fighting off mutant lepers in her lighthouse radio studio. And although there were other solid choices by the casting department, Stevie Wayne’s character is the only one to move the needle in terms of emotional attachment from the viewer.

Jamie Lee Curtis plays an unlucky hitchhiker who stumbles into Antonio Bay on the wrong night, and Curtis’ mother, Janet Leigh (Psycho, 1960) is the mayor, who is trying to make sure the town’s centennial celebration goes off without a hitch (she fails). It’s great seeing both of these actresses on screen, but their scenes don’t have nearly as much at stake as Barbeau’s.

This is a perfect film for the month of October, but I wouldn’t put it among the many scary movie classics out there. It’s good to catch on TV and see more of John Carpenter’s early work, but it just doesn’t stand up to his other, more popular films.